DAY 1 – Reflecting on our personal racial identity

I’m participating in the Delaware 21 Day Racial Equity Challenge, so I’ll be posting probably the next 21 weekdays about this. I’d like to be a better anti-racist and ally to my BIPOC colleagues, and this seems like a constructive step.

Today’s questions:

  • When did you first become aware of your racial identity?
  • What messages did you learn about race from your school and family?
  • Did those messages align with what you’ve seen in your life?
  • When has how others perceived your racial identity affected how they treat you?

I’m white, so I had the privilege of not developing much of a racial identity until late in high school. I just didn’t really think about it. I grew up in a very white town in Canada. I spent some time with local First Nations elders growing up, because my mom worked on a Masters of First Nations Studies and wrote a book on some of the local cultures and intersections thereof.

I remember thinking vaguely that it was racist that all the Chinese people in Barkerville, the Gold Rush historic site near where I grew up, were forced to live in Chinatown because everyone else was racist, but I didn’t think about it in context of “everyone else” being white, or white like me. I remember when my great-uncle died when I was 7 or 8 that I was surprised that the man who eulogized him, who’d been his best friend for years, was Chinese. I don’t remember if I had a feeling other than surprise about it, but I think I probably had some racist expectations that people were mostly friends with people who looked like them, despite multiple cousins who were Métis.

This was despite my immediate family being fairly firm that you treat people as people, you treat individuals with respect, and their stories/backgrounds/identities as valuable. My mother tends to approach life as an ambulatory set of eyeballs with unfortunately high-maintenance scaffolding, but she – and my dad, and my stepmom – trained as a journalist, so you respect (and extract, and document) people’s stories. But that approach also tends to elide reflection on your own race. My dad told me about how the majority-black Bay Area blues community was incredibly important to him as a community and emotional support after the messy divorce that meant he had to leave Canada and didn’t get to see his kid. But, for obvious reasons, that was later.

Moving to the US was different. I think the first time I was really, sharply, aware of race and how it impacted my treatment even in a progressive town, in a high school that “didn’t track” students, was when I took a class called – something like Women and Society? I was taking mostly college-geared classes, AP Statistics and Biotechnology and Shakespeare, and needed my social studies class for my junior or senior year. And the social studies classes weren’t split up like the math classes with their levels or the English classes with their levels of ambition. So I realized, walking into that class the first day, that this was more Black students than I’d seen in any of my classes the entire rest of the year.

And this was late in high school, where we were mostly picking classes based on college prospects and advisor recommendations, and it hit me that this meant that these students weren’t being encouraged to aim for 4-year universities like I was. I was angry.

In general, people tend to treat me well because of my race. I’m also fat, and a woman, so there are complicating factors, but I’m white, and have a white-sounding name. But the worst thing I’ve ever worried about when pulled over by the police is that the driver would get a speeding ticket. For the speeding that they were definitely doing. I think some of my colleagues of color have been slightly wary of me as a potential collaborator or ally or friend because I’m white? But I can’t say that’s not justified, having seen some of how they’re treated, and I don’t know how to alleviate any of that wariness without being weird and pushy in ways that are significantly weirder and pushier than I think anyone would be comfortable with.

Which this might help with! Who knows.

Copyright in Academic Publishing

I’ve been finishing up my thesis, and some of that involves filing it various places. Another component is meetings, one of which I had yesterday. I want to preface this with the fact that she was both charming and sincere in her desire for good outcomes, and emailed me at 8:51am on a Saturday to help me get stuff in in a timely manner.

But some of what she told me made me blisteringly angry.

So, copyright is your claim to intellectual property you produce, right? We’re on the same page with that. When you publish, you grant distribution rights to the publisher. The only time you won’t have copyright on what you produce is if you do it under very specific contract, like ghostwriting. Because copyright is automatic. Registration is separate, and entirely optional unless you intend to file a lawsuit.

This is the part where I edit out the swearing about ETD/Proquest.

ETD/Proquest, when you upload your thesis to them, is kind enough to streamline the registration process. Which is great, if you want to take that entirely optional $55 step. But what they imply, in their wording and what they communicate to graduate schools, is that unless you apply to register your copyright, you don’t own it. People don’t need to cite you, and can use your work willy-nilly with nary a mention of your name. I am in the process of submitting my thesis currently in another tab, and waffled on taking a screenshot of their exact wording. But I want my degree more than I want receipts on this particular issue, so you are left with only my word that they imply that not registering can be hugely expensive later and also that you don’t really have copyright protections.

You don’t have to pay anyone in order to own what you produce. Your copyright is yours. You need to cite whether or not you’ve hunted down someone’s copyright registration.

A lot of academic publishing verges on the predatory, between for-profit journals that don’t pay writers or peer reviewers and, apparently, the repository that holds most theses and dissertations produced in the US and several other countries implying that you don’t own your own work. I think it’s important to know what you own, know what you retain control over, and know that self-archiving is a viable path – in a couple different ways, depending on journal policy.

Knowledge is power. If we didn’t believe that, we wouldn’t be academics in the first place. Knowing more about intellectual property law is the power to not get dragged down into the morass of misinformation that’s out there.

On books and callout culture

One interesting thing to me about purity culture on tumblr- I know the impulse has been there for a lot of us as we grow, for something that is simple and clearly delineated and clean. But the idea of crusading for that in fandom spaces is baffling to me (oh, I know it’s because it’s where people can feel heard and feel like they have control, but still) because to me fiction is inherently going to be problematic, and that’s what makes it interesting.

Fiction has been shown to improve empathy. But if the fiction you’re used to consuming tends overwhelmingly to portray things in one way and to not challenge empathy – if it’s a series of neverending unproblematic AUs where everyone is Super Woke and never challenged by the behavior of people they hold dear – does that still hold true? It doesn’t challenge a paradigm.

When I was a kid, I read dealing with panic attacks: the series (in Italian, once, because the library was out of English and French), God is dead (with hella underage sex), war crimes with children: series 1war crimes with children: series 2child slavery and business ethics, and this is why we have the FDA, amongst many others. I grew up reading books with age gaps and neglect and abuse. The things I read were frequently upsetting, and challenging, and there was no one to really complain to even if I’d been so inclined because they already existed in indelible physical form and no one had forced me to read them. I just kind of accepted that bad things would happen and people grew through overcoming them. I think that was good for me. I know that what I read encouraged my to be significantly more empathetic than I would have been otherwise.

I don’t want to be one of those people who says ‘fiction was better in my day.’ Because there’s so much diverse, amazing literature being produced these days. I think maybe what I want to say is that, next time you get the impulse to tell the author of a fanwork that they’re disgusting for writing something uncomfortable to you, maybe go read something from a banned books list instead.

Stealing Freedom

Starting in October of last year, I was invited to be part of a heist.

The context for the terminology is that I’m part of an online community that’s mostly some combination of mentally ill LGBT survivors of various things. The community has collectively facilitated a few cross-country moves to get people out of bad situations, and when it’s adults moving away from other controlling adults we tend to refer to it as stealing the person who’s moving away.

What I was invited to was the careful planning of facilitating someone moving away from their parents as soon as they turned 18. There were 20 people in the group chat working on planning and there was specifically a getaway driver, so: planning a heist.

I didn’t talk much about this in public as it was going on, because while the planning was going on, the person involved was still a minor, and we had major privacy and safety concerns. Afterwards, there were other complications. But I was able to get permission from the most involved people to talk about this, and check in about level of detail to share, because Nick is now an adult. Nick is more of an adult than I am, because my adulthood was just assumed, whereas his was adjudicated in a court of law after his parents perjured themselves and used the legal system as a tool for harassment by trying to obtain guardianship over him and get him declared legally incompetent.

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Your Favorite Subject

Imagine there’s this really cool museum. It has a ton of things you love, and is dedicated to your favorite subject. Part of having all that cool stuff is that it’s a little pricey – let’s say $256* a day. But you think it’s worth it. You get to learn so much!
Then, even better, the museum decides that, since you’ve already studied a lot and know a fair amount about the subject, they’re going to give you a part time job. It doesn’t pay a lot, but it pays the bills, and means that you can spend more of your time studying, as well as contributing to your favorite subject, maybe making it more accessible to other people or expanding a particular exhibit or teaching people about your favorite subject. 
As part of working there, you don’t need to pay $256 a day anymore. Depending how much you already know – how much you can contribute – you pay between $0 and $40 to get in every day. This might mean you won’t have to take out huge loans to be able to study – isn’t that great?
So you get to focus on studying and doing your work, and you’re not getting rich, but you’re not distracted by worry about whether you can afford groceries. It’s a pretty decent setup. Of course, you need to make sure that you pay taxes. Which is fine, because you like stuff like roads and clean tap water. Because you don’t make much, you pay $426 in taxes, which is about 3% of what you make in a year^.
But wait! There’s a proposed simplification to the tax code. That entrance fee you haven’t had to pay in full because you work there? It’s been decided that that’s too complicated. So the new tax code is going to treat it like the museum is paying you more money and then charging you normal admission rates. Because that makes sense, or something. Okay, you say. Shit, you think, and dig out your calculator. Under the new tax plan, you’d pay $3647. That’s 24.6% of what you make in a year – because you don’t actually ever see the entrance fee you don’t pay.
Can you afford that? Can you afford to study a subject you care about and try to contribute to everyone else’s understanding and experience of it? Can you afford graduate education?
*This is what my tuition costs per day of class. I have a Public Service Scholarship for what I’m working on, and I go to a state university. My tuition is cheap.
^Calculations made using the H&R Block tax calculator and my projected taxes based on no deductions and my actual stipend for this year.

Women’s March

"We are created equal" sign

This past weekend, I went to the Women’s March on Washington.

I’ve never been particularly reticent about my political beliefs, but this is the first big protest I’ve ever attended. I set up one of the four buses leaving from Madison – though I think we could have easily filled more, especially as the site was extremely optimistic about timing and people wouldn’t have realized they were signing up for 18 hours on a bus each way (my whole body hurts).

“We the people are greater than fear”

When we got there, we were in the RFK Stadium parking lot with what was estimated to be 1800 other buses. The walk to the starting point took a while, and was mostly through suburb, where a lot of houses had signs out front, like the one at left or MLK quotes.

It took me a while to get to the actual march: there was a Starbucks on the way and I needed coffee, and then stayed a while talking to other women who were there for the March. I think at that point I was still a mile from the start point, but at least 90% of the people I saw were there for the March.

A number of people I know showed up for either the March or various sister marches, but I knew a far larger number who didn’t or couldn’t go for reasons of young children or or work or disability or money (did u kno: if you start a Skedaddle route, you get a free ticket). Because I knew a lot of people who couldn’t go, it felt even more important for me to be there; I was going on their behalf. I was going because my four year old cousin deserves a better world than this when she grows up, amongst many other reasons.

You can find all kinds of official coverage of the March – I actually had my tweets included in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel coverage. I also posted a Facebook album of the pictures and video I took and a write-up of my hilariously brief encounter with ‘counter-protesters.’ Because of the plethora of coverage and the fact that I still feel kind of like I rode home under the bus rather than on it, I’m going to keep this short:

The streets ran pink, and loud. It was the biggest post-inauguration protest in history, and no amount of official lies can erase that. The March was very white, but there were women of many backgrounds there, including hijabi sisters with American flags as scarves, because this is their country as much as mine. There were no arrests.

Even better, on the way back, the women on my bus were talking about what’s next: what we’ll do so this really was just a beginning, so that we can reach out and help and make a difference through the next four years.

Intellectual Property and Trolling

The phrase ‘fight like a girl’ is trademarked.

Yep – the phrase used as a title in this comicthis movie, this comedy sketch, this self-defense program, and the song below is trademarked, and not to any of these people.

So who owns it? Well it’s one company – they’re not hard to find, but I’m not linking them, because they try to support a particular thing that I am generally in favor of, but either their lawyer needs to be put back on a leash or they are, corporately speaking, massive dicks.

They’re dicks because they have been suing independent artists using the phrase in their art. By specifically targeting independent artists trying to make a living, they can try to control the proliferation of the phrase while not ending up embroiled in court with people who can actually fight back. Because, realistically, the company in question doesn’t have a leg to stand on. It’s a common phrase. It’s a phrase that empowers a lot of women! Except, y’know, when a business that purports to support women uses that phrase to attack their ability to sell their art.

It’s an ultimately doomed effort – even Band-Aid ended up changing their jingle to ‘stuck on Band-Aid brand’ because their brand name had become the common name, and Band-Aids aren’t as tied up with feminism and the policing of art as Fight Like A Girl is. So the company is currently trolling, getting themselves more press, and being dicks.

Intellectual property is more complicated than declaring that one owns a segment of language forever, but it’s really difficult for independent artists to get legal fees. As an independent author or artist, you’re a lot more vulnerable. So while legally when nuisance cases like this come up you could fight back, you might not have the resources. It’s deeply frustrating, partly because even if one can dispute a DMCA claim on solid grounds one’s distributors might not want the hassle. I don’t have any kind of easy solution, just a lot of frustration on behalf of my artist friends. Fair Use doesn’t even come into this, as far as I’m aware, because these works have nothing to do with the company that owns the trademark. No one cared about them until they started suing.

So hopefully it’ll die down soon, or there’ll be something class action on behalf of the artists. In the meantime, it’s worth it to know your rights, even if you won’t always be in a position to exercise them.

Fight Like A Girl by LettieBoBettie, from DeviantArt

Piracy and books

I spend a lot of time talking to writers.

I spend a lot of time specifically talking to indie writers who make all their own publishing decisions.

It’s pretty great!

But one frustrating part of it are some of the myths that get perpetuated, like that free stuff hurts sales. This can take the form of distrust of and unhappiness with Creative Commons licensing, but on the whole tends to take the form of aggressive anti-piracy stances.

And, hey, I’m not super enthusiastic about piracy, because intellectual property is important and it’s important to respect it and the people who create the things one likes. But the thing about piracy is that it’s not actually lost sales.

You heard me right.

The people who are pirating your books either never would have bought them or are going to like it and either buy a copy or consider buying future works of yours.

Okay, let me talk about examples from my own life. Four books I have pirated are the 50 Shades trilogy by E L James and Sunshine by Robin McKinley.

50 Shades I wrote about here: to say I was unimpressed is a dramatic understatement. I also knew, going in, that it was going to be probably-enraging Twilight fanfiction, and made a deliberate decision to not support the author. That was never going to be a sale. I was never going to purchase anything written by her. It does not affect her sales numbers in the least.

Sunshine* was the opposite story: I love it, and have purchased two paperback copies of the novel, both of which have gone missing. It’s also not available as an ebook through legitimate channels. So nor was that a lost sale: I’d already purchased it, and was unlikely to purchase it a third time in the same form.

Piracy can actually increase sales, but hey, if you don’t want in on that, the best way to discourage piracy of your particular works is to make legal downloads ubiquitous. Make DRM-free purchase of your works for multiple platforms easy, and I can guarantee at least some people will find hitting the ‘buy’ button more appealing than piracy.

*Ms. McKinley, if you happen to see this and be unhappy with someone pirating your work, I’d be more than happy to Paypal you your royalties.


There are words like saudade that refer to explicit emotional states, and convey a wealth of meanings. In English, we have many and varied words for nearly everything, but we don’t have anything that means the same thing as saudade. The closest we can get is nostalgia, or love for something that has gone and can never be again. They convey nearly the same thing, but not as precisely or neatly.

We have a lot of emotional vocabulary, because language is about communication, and nuance of feeling can be difficult to convey. A great deal is conveyed by facial expressions and body language.

Usually more than this. Art by

Part of the emergent vocabulary Tumblr exposes me to includes the word ‘feels’ as a noun. Usage includes such phrases as ‘all of the feels’ and ‘right in the feels.’ A literal definition would be something like ‘heart,’ but this carries more of a connotation of addictive heartbreak. Something that hits one right in the feels might make one cry every time one reads it, but one revisits it often anyway.